This group of petroglyphs in the Alta Fjord, near the Arctic Circle, bears the traces of a settlement dating from c. 4200 to 500 B.C. The thousands of paintings and engravings add to our understanding of the environment and human activities on the fringes of the Far North in prehistoric times.
THE ROCK CARVINGS
The rock carvings in Alta were inscribed on UNESCO´s World Heritage List in 1985. The rock carvings in Alta are the largest known collection of rock carvings in Northern Europe made by hunter-gatherers. The first carvings were uncovered in 1973, and they are between 6200 and 2000 years old.
Rock carvings have two meanings, for the first they represent a concrete situation, in the other they have a symbolic meaning and can signalise group identity, religious beliefs, rituals, shamanism, ideology or power.
A rock carving is a figure which is carved, polished or chipped into a stone or bedrock outcrop. They are often based upon real models; animals, objects or people. Sometimes these can be easily recognized, other times it can be difficult or impossible to understand what they represent.
What make the rock carvings in Alta so unique is that they are so varied and include so many different figures. At the four uncovered fields there are more than 5000 figures. The most common pictures are of animals, especially reindeer and moose. But there are other animals such as bear, birds and fish, often there are objects such as fishing nets, spears and boats, as well as people in a variety of activities.
Many of the figures display high artistic quality, and are very well preserved. They were made by people who lived by hunting, gathering and fishing. Most of the figures are relatively small, between 20 and 40 cm high. Some of them are relatively naturalistic; others are more geometric and stylised.
THE MEETING PLACE
The large collection of rock carvings can indicate that there are additional large, ritually important areas at the head of the Altafjord. Most likely Alta was a meeting place for people from the coastal and interior areas.